The Value and Validation of Appreciation

According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, “Whatever else each of us derives from our work, there may be nothing more precious than the feeling that we truly matter — that we contribute unique value to the whole, and that we’re recognized for it.”

Sadly, early childhood professionals aren’t often told they truly matter. Instead, many people diminish what they do. They believe the work is easy and that anybody could do it. There are plenty of those who don’t think of the early childhood profession as a “real job.”

You know you matter. But wouldn’t it be nice if it were universally recognized? Not only would that translate to much-needed and much-deserved better pay; also, your professional decisions would be trusted. You may even be asked to contribute to discussions about policies involving the children! Wouldn’t that be a pleasant change of pace?

Last week I was fortunate enough to personally experience the value and validation of appreciation.

I received an email from Joyce Oandasan, current president of the Virginia Association for the Education of Young Children (VAAEYC). She informed me that their board of directors has selected me to receive their 2023 Outstanding Service to Children Award! Joyce told me it was both the longevity and broad scope of my work that won it.

I was rendered speechless – not a typical state for me.

Like most of you, recognition isn’t something I’m accustomed to. I sit in my colorful home office, doing my thing and hoping it has an impact. Because of the nature of my work, it’s likely I do receive more words of gratitude than you do. But, nonetheless, this degree of appreciation has touched me deeply.

Perhaps it’s the wording of the award: outstanding service to children.

That means the world to me. In the early days of my career, I worked with the children directly. Since then, most of my efforts – presentations, books, online courses, and so forth – have addressed the adults in the field. But it’s all been in service to the children! Yes, I want to make things better for teachers. But the children own my heart. Their suffering breaks it, and their joy makes it sing.

Tony Schwartz, author of the above-mentioned article, writes, “Feeling genuinely appreciated lifts people up. At the most basic level, it makes us feel safe, which is what frees us to do our best work. It’s also energizing. When our value feels at risk, as it so often does, that worry becomes preoccupying, which drains and diverts our energy from creating value.”

It’s no wonder so many early childhood professionals are feeling burned out and even leaving the field.

Schwartz says we’re much more practiced at expressing negative emotions. “Heartfelt appreciation,” he writes, “is a muscle we’ve not spent much time building, or felt encouraged to build.” How sad is that?

Appreciation truly is energizing. Since receiving Joyce’s email, I’ve felt even more determined to make a difference. And I’ll bring even more enthusiasm to the conference keynote I’m doing for VAAEYC in March! The theme, appropriately enough, is “Reigniting Your Spark.”

I know the goal is always to be internally motivated. But receiving outside recognition for my decades of work has certainly reignited my spark!

If you live within driving distance of Richmond, I hope you’ll join me at the conference. I hope to leave no doubt as to just how much I value you!

But even if you can’t attend, please know that I, for one, appreciate the heck out of you. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for everything you do for the children.


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